race reports

NHRA pros at Phoenix

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis and Tom McCarthy

Tommy Johnson Jr. celebrated his 30th year driving a Funny Car with not one but two explosions in a row. Here is his second boomer in the second round against J.R. Todd.


Rain on Friday shortened the qualifying to only one day and the cool temperatures on race day made for challenging conditions at the 2019 NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix, AZ.



It was Billy Torrence’s weekend for sure. The father of 2018 Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence qualified No. 1 and went on to get the class win on Sunday and take the points lead. It was the second career victory for the Torrence patriarch, who won for the first time last August at Brainerd, MN.


Billy got past Terry Totten (3.736/329/42 to 5.038/153.79), Mike Salinas (3.687/329.58 to 3.848/275.17) and rookie Jordan Vandergriff (3.709/328.70 to 9.920/84/65) to meet Leah Pritchett in the final. Pritchett had a slight advantage off the line, but was up in smoke at the hit of the throttle while Torrence’s CAPCO dragster ran 3.965 at 326.40 mph.


Despite coming up a bit short in the final, Pritchett is happy.

“We are extremely proud of the momentum this MOPAR team has been able to create here in Phoenix,” Pritchett said. “After fixing and solving the problems we had in Pomona, to grow and improve the way we have this weekend was a win-win scenario. We consider this weekend a win. We had a such a consistent car today in the first three rounds and unfortunately, we had some traction issues in the final. To really compare how we are now compared to where we were at the start of the season, has us all really excited about heading to Gainesville.”


No. 3 qualifier Antron Brown found himself with a tough first-round draw in defending Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence. Brown had the immediate advantage against Torrence and maintained his pace to drive to victory when Torrence’s machine began to haze the tires near halftrack.


Next up for the three-time Phoenix champion was newcomer Austin Prock. Once again, Brown’s quick reaction time yielded the early lead before losing traction. His opponent encountered similar troubles and Brown’s pedaling expertise propelled him across the finish line first to claim the round win.


In a semifinal battle versus teammate Leah Pritchett, Brown wheeled his Matco Tools/Toyota down the track in 3.763 seconds, but was unable to outgun Pritchett’s 3.763 E.T.

Doug Kalitta's first-round win in Phoenix put him at 24 round wins at the Wild Horse Pass, the most for any active Top Fuel driver. He advanced over opponent Jim Maroney, but lost to Jordan Vandergriff in the second round.

Vandergriff made his Top Fuel debut at Phoenix and defeated Brittany Force 3.692/333.41 to 3.768/314.02. Brittany had lost in the first round at Pomona to Austin Prock, who was making his debut.



Matt Hagan raced to his career 30th Funny Car victory and captured DSR's 150th Funny Car Wally trophy on Sunday at the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals.


It was a near-perfect weekend for Hagan and his Sandvik Coromant Funny Car team. Led by crew chief Dickie Venables, the team looked untouchable as they began their campaign for the Phoenix Funny Car Wally by unloading with a 3.942-second run on Friday in Q1 when no other team was able to make a clean pass. They followed that up with two more ‘top three’ runs during the remaining two qualifying sessions to start race day from the No. 2 spot.


The Sandvik Coromant team picked off opponents Phil Burkhart Jr., Shawn Langdon, and Bob Tasca III to set-up a final round matchup between Hagan and defending world champion J.R. Todd. Hagan powered to a 3.890 E.T. versus Todd’s instant tire smoker to set off the win light and claim his third Phoenix Wally.


Todd almost delivered an 81st birthday present to team owner Connie Kalitta, but a malfunction of the safety system caused his DHL Toyota Camry to backfire at the green and pop out the chutes to coast to a stop at about 100 feet for a runner-up finish.


Tommy Johnson Jr. celebrated the 30th anniversary of his nitro racing debut this weekend in Phoenix at Wild Horse Motorsports Park. The 2006 NHRA Arizona Nationals Funny Car winner qualified the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car fourth and was part of a wild first-round matchup versus Jim Campbell.


Johnson had the advantage on the starting line but suffered a chain reaction of mechanical issues just past the 330-foot mark, which resulted in an explosion. While Johnson controlled his machine and brought it safely to a stop, Campbell drove away and looked to be on his way to victory. Before reaching the finish line, Campbell crossed the centerline and made contact with the timing block which resulted in a disqualification.


With extensive damage to Johnson’s Funny Car, the Make-A-Wish team worked feverishly to get him back to the lanes for his second-round matchup with reigning Funny Car world champion J.R. Todd. Johnson and Todd launched together, but Johnson’s machine dropped a cylinder early into the run and gave way to another big boomer while Todd drove away with the clean round win.

This clearly shows the damage to the second body as the nose was split in half.


“Today was a rough day. We had two separate totally different problems, and they happened on the same day, back-to-back. It’s awful rough,” Johnson said. “I felt we had a pretty good car going into race day, and actually first round it was running well before the axle broke on us. That just shows you what kind of team we have – the fact we came back from that and made it back up in time for second round. It’s a shame we had to have an issue again second round, it was totally unrelated. We’ll go back to shop, take the two weeks before Gainesville to regroup and come back swinging.”


Five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. was especially happy to get the win on Feb. 24. It was his 1,000th round win in the class and he did get the birthday present for his team owner as Elite Motorsports’ Richard Freeman turned 46 this weekend.


Behind the wheel of his JEGS.com Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro, Coughlin began the day meeting Greg Anderson for the 100th time. Coughlin posted a near-perfect .001-second reaction time and a 6.568 at 210.90 mph to advance over a surrendering Anderson, who drifted to a 20.633 at 48.17 mph after getting out of shape early.

Elite Motorsports teammates Erica Enders (near lane) and Alex Laughlin during qualifying.


Coughlin then got past Elite Motorsports teammates Alex Laughlin, Erica Enders and Matt Hartford to secure his 81st NHRA national event victory. (He has 19 Sportsman wins.) Laughlin and Hartford turned on red lights, but Enders ran a close 6.575/210.18 to finish second to Coughlin’s 6.541/210.28 in the semi. Coughlin is now second in the points.



Beau Layne ran 6.381 at 220.08 mph.  


Beau Layne was the Top Fuel Harley winner as Doug Vancil never could get hooked up and ran a 9.924 at just 97.22 mph. It was Layne’s first final round.

Doug Vancil


Layne defeated Rickey House 6.302/223.76 to 6.681/185/95) and Kevin Boyer (broke before staging). Vancil’s 6.289/222.07 knocked out Tii Tharpe’s 6.496/196.56 in the first round and then ran 6.298/228.65 to defeat Bob Malloy’s 6.611/177.35.


Low ET: Jay Turner, 6.200 seconds. Broke on qualifying run and could not make repairs in time for eliminations.

Top Speed: Tii Tharpe, 229.31 MPH  



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